Jordan Phillips bet on himself by signing a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills this offseason.
He’s well on his way toward seeing that bet pay off in a big way.
Phillips had another sack Sunday in the Bills’ 24-9 win over the Washington Redskins at New Era Field, his sixth of the season – tops among all defensive tackles in the NFL through Week 9.
“The guy’s been balling,” safety Jordan Poyer said of Phillips. “It’s hard to keep him off the field. He brings a lot of energy to our team, brings a lot of juice to our team. ... He's a great player. He's going to continue to play well for us.”
Coach Sean McDermott agreed with that assessment. He gave Phillips his first start of the season against the Redskins.
“He earned it,” the coach said. “He’s playing well. That’s how we do things. Things are earned, and he’s earned it.”
“It was a long time coming,” Phillips said of earning the start Sunday. “I've been grinding, been working for it, and finally the opportunity came. Hopefully I'll get to be there next week.”
There’s a good bet he will. Phillips had three tackles against the Redskins, two of which went for losses. Of his 16 total tackles this season, nine have been behind the line of scrimmage. He also has a forced fumble.
Add it all up, and it equals a player primed to strike it rich in free agency. Disruptive, interior pass rushers are valuable commodities, and few are doing it better in the NFL right now than the 27-year-old Phillips. Asked Sunday in the winning locker room if he’s given any thought to what his great start to the 2019 season might mean for his future, Phillips took the predictable route.
“I'm just taking it day by day, game by game,” he said. “It doesn't matter what I do if we don't win.”
That’s something the Bills have done a lot of through the first half of 2019. A 6-2 record has them in the first wild-card spot in the AFC postseason picture. Phillips’ performance has been a big part of the defensive success. After Sunday’s win, Buffalo ranks third in both yards (296.3) and points (16.4) per game allowed.
“He's a guy that's hungry and is a player that can obviously change the trajectory of the game,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “He has been doing a great job in pass rush, big body, athletic. He's continuing to develop in a leadership role as well. Hopefully he continues to play the way he is. He'll be around here for a long time."
Phillips moving into the starting lineup would be a significant development on its own, but that significance is heightened by who he moved ahead of – first-round draft pick Ed Oliver. That shows McDermott is being truthful when he says jobs are earned. By any measure, Phillips has been the more impactful player through the first eight games of the season.
“I think it says a lot about our coaching staff, that they can trust the process and give the job to whoever they think has earned it in practice. That's tough to do in the business and in this league,” defensive end Trent Murphy said. “There's always going to be criticism about it. We all want to start, we all want to play … but we're a close group, and I think we're always happy for another man's success, especially in our room. That he can go get another sack today and put food on his family's table and take care of them, I think is awesome.”
The Bills rotate heavily along the defensive line, but Phillips led defensive tackles with 33 snaps. Star Lotulelei played 29 snaps, while Oliver played just 18.
"Whether he started or not, he was going to get more opportunities," McDermott said. "Ed is a young player that has to continue to develop. That comes down to going through his process during the week. ... It's not really necessarily what he hasn't done, it's more of what Jordan has done. "
Game ball: Devin Singletary
Finally. The Bills made Singletary the focus of the offense, and he delivered with 140 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. On an offense starving for playmakers, Singletary has consistently shown he's perhaps the Bills' best. It's time for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to ride with him as the featured running back.
Key numbers: 3 for 4, 0 for 2
That's what the Bills' offense went in the red zone Sunday against what the Washington offense did on its trips inside the Buffalo 20-yard line. The Bills lead the league in red-zone touchdown percentage, getting six points 71.4% of the time. The Buffalo defense also bounced back after two tough weeks in the red zone to hold Washington to field goals both times they got inside the 20.
Quote of the day
“I’m done apologizing for ugly wins. It’s a win. We’re 6-2. This time last year we were 2-6." -- Bills safety Micah Hyde, on the continued doubts about just how good the Bills really are based on who they've beat and how they've looked in the games they've won.
At 6-2, the Bills are 1.5 games behind the Patriots in the AFC East race after Baltimore handed New England its first loss of the season. The Bills have a one-game lead over the 5-3 Indianapolis Colts for the first wild-card spot and are two games up on 4-4 Pittsburgh and 4-4 Oakland. It wasn't a great day on the out-of-town scoreboard, as the Raiders beat the Lions and the Chargers likely saved their season with a win over the Packers.
1. The rotation at right tackle went away for a week. Veteran Ty Nsekhe played all 62 offensive snaps at the position. Rookie Cody Ford was limited to just four snaps on special teams. Ford was questionable coming into the game with an elbow injury, so it's possible the plan was only to use him on offense in an emergency basis.
2. Wide receiver Robert Foster was active, but played just seven snaps (11%). He was targeted just once. It's tough to get Foster -- or any receiver, for that matter -- involved with so few opportunities. John Brown again led all receivers in playing time by a wide margin, playing 54 snaps (87%). Cole Beasley played just 28 snaps (45%), his lowest total of the season. Somewhat surprisingly, Isaiah McKenzie was second among receivers with 42 snaps (68%).
3. The rotation at nickel cornerback largely disappeared. Taron Johnson played 31 defensive snaps (61%), while Kevin Johnson played just six (12%) and Dean Marlowe got just one, which came when starting safety Micah Hyde briefly came out of the game.
4. Rookie Dawson Knox far outpaced veteran Tyler Kroft in snaps at tight end. Knox was on the field for 47 snaps (76%) compared to just 16 for Kroft (26%). Blocking tight end Lee Smith played 19 snaps (31%).
5. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor played nine snaps in his Bills debut (18%). He was also on the field for three snaps on special teams (12%).
The Bills go back on the road, making the short trip down the I-90 west to face Cleveland at 1 p.m. Sunday. At 2-6, a loss to the Bills would all but officially eliminate the Browns from playoff contention (no team under the current playoff format has made the playoffs after starting 2-6 or worse). Here are three things to know about the Browns …
1. Head coach Freddie Kitchens is looking like he’ll be one and done. Browns fans have been calling for his firing on social media, and those calls reached a fever pitch after Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.
“It really doesn’t concern me,’’ Kitchens said of his job security, via cleveland.com. “It’s not my decision. I’ve never worried about it before, I’m not worried about it now, I’m not going to worry about it in the future. I’ll just do the best job I can do.”
2. The team released veteran safety Jermaine Whitehead early Monday morning after he went on a wild social-media rant after Sunday’s loss that included death threats and racial slurs toward a team employee.
3. It’s basically a circus. Need proof? Look at star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s clown cleats – the ones he reportedly was forced to change at halftime of Sunday’s game at the risk of being ineligible to play if he refused. Beckham’s continued crusade against the NFL’s dress code is as baffling as his team’s reluctance to throw him the ball. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has regressed terribly in his second season, wore his facial hair three different ways Sunday, the last of which promises to be an instant meme. In other words, the Browns are still very much the Browns.